"Dying is not romantic, and death is not a game which will soon be over... Death is not anything... death is not... It's the absence of presence, nothing more... the endless time of never coming back... a gap you can't see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes not sound..." - Tom Stoppard
Zarak felt the two boxes in his pockets. They seemed heavy despite their small size, like two massive boulders, weighing down his entire being. As they walked from Drakul's castle, Zarak felt like dropping them to the ground and allowing them to be buried by snow and the sands of time. But he knew that he could not do that. He knew that this was the only way to restore the human race. If one race must die so the other may live, so be it. This was Zarak's thought.
And he hated it.
Zarak extinguished his misgivings by thinking of Fenris and Elaina, and grabbed onto the thought of seeing them again. Zarak then looked at Martarj, and wondered if Martarj would stay. Surely, after the resurrection, Martarj would return to the elves of Paneris. Wouldn't he?
No, he wouldn't. Zarak mused. After all he's seen and done with me, he would not return to the old life. He would not return to a life of ridicule and loneliness. Yet... that is what he must do.
"Human!" Drakul shouted behind his shoulder to Zarak trailing behind.
"The name is Zarak!" Zarak replied, peeved that he did not receive respect from his new companion.
But was respect his to demand? For years, he had been a captain of his own squad, and maybe after all that time of automatically getting respect, maybe he had forgotten that some respect was meant to be earned. And Zarak had not yet done anything in Drakul's eyes to receive respect.
"I shall call you by whatever I please," Drakul growled. "Do remember that I am only following you to fulfill my own agenda, and I have no reason to prevent quarrel with you."
"Nor do I have any wish to evoke quarrel with you,"
Drakul only grunted in reply, so Zarak continued.
"What is it you wish to ask me?"
"How did you reach the top of the Alps? You do not have any climbing gear, and you are hardly kitted for prolonged snow travel."
"I flew us here," Martarj cut in.
"Oh ho! A black-winged travel service!" Martarj's hands balled up into fists, and Zarak thought that Martarj was going to deliver a blow to Drakul, but Martarj soon relaxed. Zarak gave an inaudible sigh of relief, but did not put his guard down. He knew already that the relationship between Martarj and Drakul was dangerously tenuous at best. The smallest statement between them could set them both off.
For the rest of the morning, the trio travelled in silence. Zarak looked at his two companions, making sure that there would be no quarrel, even though they both perpetually glared ahead, avoiding all eye contact with each other. Judging from the glare of the twin suns, it was a little after noon when the group reached a sheer cliff. The drop reached to the ground and the destroyed road back to New Riza.
"Martarj, not to appear tactless or anything
" Zarak began, but Martarj had already removed his armour and unfurled his wings, knowing that Zarak could not make this climb without the necessary equipment. Drakul gave a chuckle when Martarj told him to grab Zarak's hand.
"A very little known fact about the vampire race derives from the old legend that we would turn into bats and swoop down upon innocent victims," Drakul explained. "This is utter hokum, of course, for we cannot transform into bats or wolves or mist, but instead we are like these. We are swift and unnaturally strong, like the wolf. We are cold and silent like the mist
Drakul suddenly threw himself off the cliff, and as Martarj and by extension, Zarak leaped down to save the crazed fool, what Zarak had originally thought was a cape saw was instead two bat wings that had hung limp before unfurling in the air, catching Drakul like twin parachutes and then flapping, keeping him aloft for a small time before lowering him to the ground. When Martarj and Zarak's feet touched the ground, Drakul finished,
"And we swoop down upon our victims, like the bat."
"You could have friggin' warned us," Martarj growled, pulling his armour back on, which Zarak understood. Martarj had no wish to appear as a transportation service back to New Riza.
"I prefer making certain things about myself a surprise," Drakul replied calmly. Martarj's lower lip curled as he sighed testily through his nose.
"How do you like broken noses as surprises?" Martarj snarled under his breath. Drakul heard this as he was walking off, and without turning around, flicked off Martarj. Zarak did his best to hide his grin as Martarj made a face that made him look remarkably like a silver-armoured fish.
Some friends are for companionship
Zarak mused. And others are for entertainment
Martarj is both.
The group had been traversing the burnt countryside for two days now, and Zarak was thankful that the largest fight between Martarj and Drakul had amounted to only a bruised shin, when it could have gone much worse. Considering Drakul's sarcastic and spiteful nature and Martarj's sensitivity towards the subjects that Drakul was "discussing", it could have become a full-blown battle. It would take about half a day more to reach New Riza, so in kindness to Martarj as Drakul didn't need to sleep and Zarak couldn't they had stopped for the night. Martarj was already asleep and Drakul had disappeared, so Zarak sat cross-legged and in silence, staring into the flame. He gave a start when Drakul tapped him on the shoulder, for he had not heard the vampire return. He gave even more of a start when Drakul threw a dead, mauled rabbit onto his lap. Seeing Zarak's look of puzzlement and surprise, Drakul rolled his eyes.
"Eat it, human," The vampire sighed. "I care not whether you eat it raw or cooked on the fire. I've already drained it of blood, but the muscle is still there."
Very little muscle, though, The crystal commented as Zarak skewered the rabbit with the lasrow that he had taken from Daiqu earlier, forgetting about it until now, and held it over the fire. Zarak wasn't especially hungry (though by reason he should've) but instead ate it to avoid offending Drakul. He would have to if he was to be the diplomat. They sat in silence for a small while, and Drakul then spoke as Zarak feasted upon the slightly burnt rabbit.
"Why do you not sleep like the elf does?" Drakul asked, his husky voice still managing to send small chills down Zarak's spine. After all, the vampire had almost killed him little more than two days ago.
"I have a feeling that you already have a theory." Zarak replied, swallowing the mouthful of rabbit meat and wrestling to keep his voice steady.
"That I do. I think that the reason you do not sleep is because you are fearful of what you will find there. Maybe the eyes of loved ones, friends and family, pleading and disappointed. Maybe the victorious smiles of the ones who killed them. Maybe even the memory of how it happened." Zarak sat in shock for a small while, for Drakul had voiced his deepest fears aloud.
"How do you know these things?"
"I, too, have felt these fears. Before the Great Massacre, I had a mother and father, a brother, a wife and children. And your kind, in a single fortnight, took all that away from me. But, as I do not sleep, I saw these things not in my dreams but with my waking eyes." Zarak stared, his mouth hanging slightly open. Drakul noticed this and said,
"Stop it. That look ill befits you." Zarak closed his mouth and soon spoke.
"So that is why you hate me,"
Drakul gave a chuckle at this.
"'Hate' hardly covers it. I would enjoy wiping your entire species from the face of the planet, but due to obvious reasons, even though the chance has arisen, I cannot. But I assure you, the minute that I become a free vampire, I will hunt down two humans for every single member of my family who was killed." Zarak's blood ran cold.
"How many were in your family?"
"But that's insane! That happened almost four thousand years ago! The blood of those humans runs thin in the current world!"
"Just because it happened four thousand years ago does not mean it did not happen. And just because the bloodline is thinned out, it has not disappeared. The murderous blood of humans from that time continued on through history; dodos, vampires, dragons. The dodos were defenceless; vampires were only obeying their natures as defined by the gods, and dragons were all but wiped out by your murderous crusades for glory."
"The dragons were different."
"Pray tell how."
"They stole our jewels, our women and men and our livestock."
"You mined the jewels from their mountains, so by right they owned those jewels, and you stole them. They were only taking back what was theirs. Your women encased their hair and their clothing with jewels from those mountains, and your livestock were taken from the dragons' lands."
"What about the wanton killing of our soldiers and the razing of our towns?"
"Some were just amoral in that respect. But most wanted to stop your unjustifiable killing of their kind and your incessant expansion to borders you were not meant to cross."
"And is that what I must do to stop your threatened killing of my kind?"
Drakul was silent for a moment and then murmured something, causing Zarak to gasp. Drakul then left, leaving Zarak with those three words.
"If you must,"